The Fireside room was vibrant, warmed by the smell of hors D’oeuvres made by Chef Andrew Wadlow and the Culinary Department. They were a feast to the eyes and stomach. The Chef was a faculty nominee of the Analee Fuentes award, along with staff nominee Veronica Dauphin, who helped pour beverages.
“By everyone coming together as one, it gives us infinite possibilities to learn from one another,” said LBCC president Greg Hamann at the ninth annual Unity Celebration held Wednesday, Feb. 28, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The program started off by announcing the winners of the Black History Month essay contest. Alena Santos won first place, Zakeiba Ofosu won second place, and Chapman Kuykendall and Lacey Matthews won third place. Each essay reflected the power and value of listening and witnessing. The audience was engaged and content. The quiet clicking of utensils on plates could be heard as they consumed the food and the wonderful words.
Next came the Analee Fuentes Unity Award, which recognizes students, staff, and faculty who have demonstrated a commitment to bringing awareness and advancing diversity and social justice at LBCC. Faculty Member Anne Magratten won for her work at the Oak Creek Correctional Facility, teaching art and providing guidance and inspiration to all. Reed Davis won for all of his efforts with communication and direction for students to achieve their goals.
Student winners were Marta Nuñez, for her work in Student Leadership, and Raven Womack, for his work in the Diversity Achievement Center.
The Gary Westford Community Connection Award recognizes individuals or community organizations whose work demonstrates a connection with LBCC and helps the college and surrounding community advance diversity and social justice. This year’s winners were The LBCC Academic Foundation and Extended Learning Foundation.
Director of Institutional Equity Javier Cervantes then introduced Guest Speaker Frank Thompson, a former Superintendent of the Oregon Department of Corrections and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
He reflected on the journey he took to get where he is today. Starting with the civil unrest in the South in the 1960s, living in a predominately black Baptist part of Arkansas, and his stint in the military, and when he started working in law enforcement. This lead him to work in a penitentiary in personnel administration and shortly after that he became a warden. He also said this was the first time a white man called him “Boss.”
He said the botched execution of Billy Ray Rector was the turning point in his attitude toward executions.
Rector, who was convicted of killing a man during an altercation outside of an Arkansas nightclub in 1981, attempted suicide after the crime by shooting himself in the head. Because of the brain damage this caused, Thompson said Rector shouldn’t have been considered mentally able to stand trial.
Rector would end up being convicted anyway, and during the execution it took over 50 minutes to find a suitable vein for a lethal injection. Even though there was a black blind in the room where the execution was taking place, it didn’t prevent people from hearing the moans, as they stuck a needle in him numerous times until a vein was found.
“I don’t think anyone thinks about, or if it even crosses their minds, of what it takes to take a life, or what the effects it has on the staff,” said Thompson.
“To look into their eyes and tell them what their “death warrant” says, what it states, how and what they are going to do to them to end their life… I don’t know how anyone can do that and not be changed.”
He added that the additional stress and anxiety levels involved with an execution is unfair to staff.
“One third of the staff with the Oregon State Penitentiary suffers from [Post Traumatic Stress] from the regular jobs they hold. Put them on an execution and the stress levels go off the charts,” said Thompson.
He would go on to say, that the executor is never revealed, and that he had to teach him the correct way to administer the lethal injection after the Rector incident, where it is done by gravity taking over, not the plunge action normally used with an injection. It was a very time consuming and agonizing process that took hours to perfect.
It is hard to picture this man as he stood in front, of the audience with salt and pepper hair, pulled back into a ponytail, as a warden. He said the ’60s finally caught up to him.
He works on this topic to provoke dialogue and thought. “It takes more money to execute a person than it does to educate them. We need to start at school level,” he said.
The celebration closed with a toast to long time staff member Robin Havenick on her retirement.
“This is an extraordinary celebration, we are making a difference. It has been a joy to be a part of,” said Havenick.